The 2014 Chardonnay was included in Fredric Koeppel’s 50 Great Wines of 2018:
50 Great Wines of 2018, Fredric Koeppel, January 9, 2019
The “50 Great Wines of 2018” represent regions of France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and various AVAs in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and, of course, a wide range of grape varieties and styles of wine. Prices range from a fabulously low $15 to a pretty high $140, with plenty bottles falling into the sweet spot between about $20 and $30; a great wine does not have to be expensive. These are wines that I not only admired but loved during my reviewing last year. The roster could have been expanded by 10 or 12 wines, but I like to stick to 50 — as I have for many years — because that number forces me to be analytical as well as emotional and totally subjective. For the first time in preparing this annual list, I include snippets of the original reviews to lend My Readers some clues as to why I doted on particular wines. No technical information is included. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California. 850 cases. Exceptional.
“… amazing purity and intensity … crystalline tone and chiseled presence.”
Here was the review from June 2018:
12 California Chardonnays I Liked
You may be thinking apropos the title of this post, “F.K., why didn’t you just say ’12 California Chardonnays’? Why add ‘I liked’”? Because, Dear Reader, I don’t like many chardonnays made in California, so when I come across a dozen that I can write about together, I want to emphasize that fact. The reason, as you probably know from having been a devoted reader of this blog — bless your little pointy heads! — is that so many chardonnays from The Golden State are saturated with swamps of oak that I open even one with trepidation, and when I’m looking for an appropriate white wine to drink with dinner, I will open just about anything other than chardonnay. It’s a real crap-shoot, this whole chardonnay business. The wines reported on in this post age in French oak barrels for varying amounts of time and using various percentages of new barrels, but the important point is that all 12 achieve a state of balance among all elements, sometimes pushing the boundaries, it’s true, but sometimes that bold, risky factor adds a frisson of appreciation. Other selections here are more elegant and restrained. Today we range from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. Vintages represented are 2014, ’15 and ’16, with the ’14s really coming into a state of grace. These wines were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries and marketing people involved.
How can a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged nine months in 100 percent new French oak barrels display such amazing purity and intensity, such crystalline tone and chiseled presence? Certainly, a factor must be the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vines that struggle to find nutrients in the hillside vineyard, sending roots ever downward in search of water. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, a favorite in our house whatever the vintage, offers a medium gold hue and arresting aromas of peach, pear and quince that unfurl notes of lemon balm and apple blossom, gunflint and limestone. Supernal in its lithe, supple texture and exquisitely poised between zephyr-like softness and riveting acidity, this chardonnay delivers spare and elegant citrus and stone-fruit flavors that culminate in a finish of glittering limestone minerality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. The Smith brothers concocted 850 cases. Exceptional.